Maskirovka is a Russian term (Маскировка) that refers to military deception. Although the word is sometimes translated as „camouflage,“ the simple translation belies its much broader meaning, which includes all active and passive measures to deceive the enemy, including: Concealment (skrytie), imitation using dummies and military dummies (imitasiia), maneuvers to deceive (demonstrativnye manevry), and disinformation (dezinformatsiia).
What is Maskirovka? Meaning, definition, explanation, strategy
The Soviet Military Myclopeadia defines „maskirovka“ as follows: „means of securing combat operations and the daily activities of the armed forces; a complex of measures aimed solely at misleading or keeping the enemy in the dark about the presence and disposition of the armed forces, various military targets, their condition, combat readiness, and operations, as well as about the commander’s plans… maskirovka helps to surprise the actions of the enemy’s armed forces, maintain combat readiness, and increase the survivability of the targets.
It was developed as a military doctrine in the 1920s and used by Zhukov in 1939 in the battles of the Khalkhin Gol against Japan. For example, the Red Army Field Regulations (1929) state, „Surprise has a stunning effect on the enemy. For this reason, all troop operations must be conducted as inconspicuously and quickly as possible.“ Stealth was to be achieved by confusing the enemy through movements, camouflage and use of terrain, speed, use of night and fog, and secrecy.
Maskirovka was put into practice on a large scale at the Battle of Kursk, particularly on the steppe front under the command of Ivan Konev. The result was that the Germans attacked the Russian forces four times more than they had expected. German General Friedrich von Mellenthin wrote: „The terrible counterattacks, in which huge masses of men and equipment took part, were an unpleasant surprise for us… The extremely skillful camouflage of the Russians should be emphasized once again. We did not discover … a single minefield or antitank area until … the first tank was blown up by a mine or the first Russian antitank guns opened fire“
What is Maskirovka in relation to Ukraine?
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a major invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but called it a „special military operation“ to pursue the „demilitarization and denazification“ of the regime in Ukraine. The goal of the ongoing invasion, according to Russia, is to „protect people who have been mistreated and murdered by the regime in Kiev for eight years.“
Here are some quotes from Putin’s fateful speech announcing war with Ukraine.
„Our plans do not include occupation of Ukrainian territories. We will not impose anything on anyone by force.“
„What is happening today does not stem from a desire to hurt the interests of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. It is about protecting Russia itself from those who have taken Ukraine hostage and are trying to use it against our country and its people.“
The current situation of Russia’s military action in Ukraine is in stark contrast to the above statements of the head of state justifying his recent actions. These examples can be used to exemplify the age-old Russian military deception tactic, „maskirovka.“
Maskirovka has been part of the Russian military’s arsenal for centuries. It involves the use of dummies, subterfuge, denial, disinformation, and deception to mislead the enemy. It has been part of Russian intelligence craft for centuries, even before the communist era. It was even taught at the military school founded by Tsar Nicholas II. Today, the tactic of disguising one’s intentions under the guise of well-thought-out, manipulative communications is not just a Russian trick, but is used by intelligence agencies around the world. It is not that only the Russians resort to it, but intelligence agencies around the world use what is called ‚active measures‘ or psychological operations to impose their will on the enemy.
But Russia’s strength in this tactic is clear: the Russian strategic maskirovka concept seeks to preemptively manipulate the adversary’s decision-making process and steer it toward desired outcomes. By applying the theory of „reflexive control,“ the enemy is made to make decisions that the manipulator has predetermined. Such „information confrontation“ is used to win public opinion worldwide and also to mobilize the domestic population through strategic misdirection.